Lens Distortion: The Ultimate Guide to Lens Distortion

As a photographer, your camera is the most important tool of your trade. You can stage and light the best scene in the world, but it won't matter if you can't capture it. The lens in your camera is what makes the magic possible, but it's a double-edged sword. You take pictures of a world that operates in linear dimensions, but your camera lens is curved. The mismatch results in lens distortion. If you've worn glasses with a strong prescription, you may have experienced distortion when viewing things in your periphery. There are several types of lens distortion, and each can be corrected with photo editing software.

Types of lens distortion

All lenses will give you some sort of distortion, though it may not be immediately noticeable, and while some lenses have ways of compensating for it, nothing can completely remove it. The type and amount of distortion largely depends on your lens' focal length and your distance from the subject.


Barrel or convex distortion results in lines that curve away from the center of your image, so that the center appears to be closer to you. Wide-angle prime lenses or zoom lenses at short focal lengths like those used in wide-angle shots will result in barrel distortion. In portraits where the subject is centered, this may make them appear larger relative to their surroundings.


Pincushion or concave distortion gives you lines that curve toward the center of your image, so that the edges appear to be pulled in and centered subjects appear smaller relative to the rest of the photo. This is common with telephoto lenses and longer focal lengths on zoom lenses.


Mustache distortion is almost a combination of the first two distortions. Where barrel and pincushion distortion turn straight lines into curves, mustache distortion turns them into waves, curving away from the center of the photo in the middle and back toward the center on the edges. Of the three lens distortions, mustache may be the most difficult to correct.

Perspective distortion

Barrel, pincushion, and mustache distortion all fall into the category of optical distortions because they are a result of your lens. Perspective distortion, on the other hand, is simply a result of distance from the subject of your picture, or, if you have multiple subjects, the distances between them. As with barrel and pincushion optical distortions, there are two types of perspective distortion: extension, or wide-angle, and compression. Extension makes things that are closer to the camera seem much larger, and compression does the opposite, making things in the distance seem larger than they are. You can correct perspective distortion by moving closer to or further away from your subject.

Using lens distortion to enhance your photos

Not all lens distortion is bad. Some lenses, like fisheyes, are made for the express purpose of distorting your photo. If you're shooting a formal event, you'll probably want to remove the distortion, but if you're attempting to convey a more humorous tone or emphasize one subject over another in your image, lens distortion may work to your advantage. Your photo editing software will likely have presets to correct barrel or pincushion distortion, but you may need additional tools to correct mustache distortion. If you choose to correct your photo, be sure that all the elements you want in it are preserved, as the correction may pull things out of the frame.

Correcting lens distortion

Because lens distortion is such a common problem, most photo editors have methods for correcting at least some forms of it. As part of the CorelDRAW Graphics Suite, Corel PHOTO-PAINT offers all the retouching tools you need. Correct your lens distortion or emphasize it for a more effective photo. Try the CorelDRAW Graphics Suite today to see how you can enhance your images.

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